For Orange County, 2015 was a year of cool food trends that eventually got weird. Case in point: stuffed donuts were cool until everyone started stuffing donuts in your face. The arrival and popularization of poke, though much-needed, is now on overdrive and isn’t stopping anytime soon. Desserts got wackier and wackier—all, of course, for the purpose of a shareable Instagram photo. Now that it’s almost 2016, it’s time to contemplate what the new year will bring us. Our guess is a modern take on Asian fusion, more food delivery services, and…
…Donuts (Yes, MORE)
Andy Nguyen and Scott Nghiem of Afters Ice Cream aren’t stopping with ice cream-stuffed donuts. Along with the former owner Fusion Tea Bar Lysa Thuy Pham, the duo is opening up a new donut shop called Ujelly on January 9. It will feature flavors like Vietnamese coffee, caramel flan, and taro as well as stuffed croissants. Another trend that might continue in 2016 are donut-fusion pastries, like OC Donut Bar’s French toast donut.
Hawaiian Food Besides Poke
Let’s play a game: how many new OC poke restaurants can you name? Lovefish Sushi Poke, Low-Key Poke Joint, Poki Yaki, Poki Ya, Poki Naya, and Poke Bar are just a few I can think of, which just tells you the trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But musubi is also gaining traction thanks to Musubiya Balls & Burgers in Costa Mesa and the newly opened Musubi Monster in Orange. Ono Hawaiian Barbecue, which also has locations in Santa Fe Springs and Downey, also opened this past year, bringing dishes like kalua pork and Hawaiian barbecue chicken to Buena Park, Tustin, and La Habra.
Asian Fusion (Xtreme Edition)
Asian fusion has been around for ages, but the restaurateurs of Orange County are taking it to the next level. By the end of 2015, more fusion eateries opened up than pure pho and sushi ones. Nguyen’s Kitchen in Orange, for instance, serves bulgogi pork sandwiches alongside banh mi. Pho and ramen shop Nudo Nudo in Westminster prepares oxtail fries and pho topped with fried egg (as had been popular with many dishes this past year). MixaBowl in Santa Ana specializes in healthy Chipotle-esque bowls but with Korean ingredients.
UberEATS Expanding to Orange County
DoorDash and Postmates began picking up and delivering meals to Orange County homes and offices this past year, and UberEATS could possibly do the same by next year. The app, which functions similarly to DoorDash and Postmates, is only available in Los Angeles right now but, just like Uber’s rate of expansion, it’s possible UberEATS may gain popularity just as quickly.
Cajun Dishes in Unexpected Places
Boiling Crab and Ritter’s Steam Kettle Cooking are old news to most of us by now, but new restaurants are taking the cuisine and giving it a different look. Kajun Kitchen in Orange, for example, prepares shrimp, crawfish, and other seafood in a more casual manner, serving them on a paper plate with a side of rice and vegetables. Asian fusion restaurant Nguyen’s Kitchen offers crawfish pasta and cajun garlic fries alongside banh mi.
In 2015, Jason Quinn opened up a fried chicken shop called PFC, Korean fried chicken shops started popping up everywhere, and Mr. Katsu began serving katsu chicken sandwiches. If you that’s not enough fried chicken for you, get this: according to a food and restaurant consulting company called Baum + Witman, 2016 is going to be the year of fried chicken.
Tea (in the Midst of Our Society’s Coffee Craze)
We’re not talking about bubble tea (Orange County’s got a whole lot of that already). We’re talking good ol’ loose leaf tea. With the opening of LA’s The American Tea Room in Newport Beach this past November, lovers of earl grey, rooibos blends, and organic teas now have a mecca for their favorite hot drink. Spots like TeaArias in Huntington Beach and Harmony Tea Bar in Mission Viejo also opened this past year. Though bubble tea is part of their menu, they also focus on traditional tea blends.
Perhaps it’s because of Orange County’s abundance of Korean restaurants (and, thus, fermented soybeans—WHOO), but fermented foods are becoming more common. Farm & Culture Co., a fermented food purveyor selling fermented vegetables, yogurts, and kombucha flavors, just opened in OC Mix a couple of months ago. There’s also Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa, a health market that sells handcrafted fermented foods.
More Pop-Ups (and Infrastructure Supporting It)
Food trucks were a bigger deal years ago when they first became trendy. Going to a food truck event was an opportunity for patrons to try innovative recipes and for business owners to test out ideas before going brick-and-mortar (if they pleased). But 2015 saw the rise of pop-ups like Contra Coffee & Tea and Hopper & Burr. Additionally, spaces like East End Incubator Kitchens in 4th Street Market, which allows small-scale food businesses to rent out kitchen space, provides the infrastructure to support the pop-up model.
Continuation of the Pro-Vegetable/Health Craze
The healthy food movement started off primarily with kale, acai bowls, and juicing and now it’s gotten even more intense. Avocado toast and brussel sprouts appeared on several OC menus this year including The North Left, Playground, and Outpost Kitchen. New poke restaurants and Chipotle-style eateries like MixaBowl are also making a conscious effort to brand themselves as healthy options.